That includes the way we work.”
Professor Cary Cooper, Director Magazine 2005
The Smart Work Company has over a decade of experience working with businesses making the transition to new ways of working, mainly in manufacturing companies shifting from traditional practices – where managers think, the manual workforce do what they are told – to those based on agile, whole workforce, knowledge-based working.
Does our experience remain relevant in today’s always-on, digitally-connected world? Yes, very much so. Among the many trends impacting business, just three show why we need to be building on the legacy of learning from that time. One is customer service as core to creating value, the second is social connectivity, and the third is our innate need for learning.
There is currently renewed focus on organising to meet customer expectations. Customer power is expanding as they connect online, making recommendations and collectively denting reputations when businesses get things wrong.
Customers are no longer satisfied with just accepting what they are given. They increasingly expect to be included in designing the products and services that they want – it’s now a case of ‘made with me’ rather than ‘made with me in mind’
Speed, responsiveness, innovation and customer focus have long been a source of competitive advantage for large and small manufacturers alike. Many people are busy prematurely burying the old industrial world, going straight from Henry Ford and mass production to today’s tumultuous trends, as though lean, quality and mass customisation never happened.
But it did happen – and it looks likely that the new world of ubiquitous technological and social connectivity will build on the customer-focused organising principles and work philosophies that began to be put into practice decades ago in manufacturing. Of course translated into working practices that reflect contemporary conditions.
The pace of technological development is furious on a number of fronts – wearable technologies, nano technologies, sensors that can be embedded in furniture and buildings, technologies that can alter our physiology, 3D printing, and the ‘internet of things’ to name just a few. These technologies are creating immense possibilities at the intersection of art, technology and science.
Sandy Pentland from MIT reported in the Harvard Business Review how he and his team asked people to wear badges that produce ‘sociometric’ data. They found that “the best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings.”
This data confirms what we ought to know already about the influence of informal social relationships on productivity. We can find evidence of it way back in the 1920s and 1930s in the Hawthorne Studies. We find evidence of it in the Socio-technical movement in the 1950s, and we find it in the shift from traditional to lean and agile manufacturing throughout the 1990s.
Our deep need to learn
Social tools hugely expand our opportunities for connected, self-directed learning. The explosion of the MOOC phenomenon (Massive Open Online Courses) shows that we have a widespread and deep desire to learn, undirected and exploring things that interest us. Happily, what people need and what businesses need are the same thing.
Legacy of learning
In the face of the rapid technological developments and global economic forces currently facing businesses, Gary Hamel – to name just one high-profile person – is calling for greater workforce autonomy, innovation everyone’s business and empowerment.
We’ve been here before though – and in a big way. Working practices based on innovation as everyone’s responsibility through continuous improvement, empowerment and problem-solving were the basis of lean and agile manufacturing. But now through social technologies, continuous improvement has the possibility to become connected, collective intelligence.
There is a legacy of learning around organising for customer focus, social connectivity, autonomy, problem-solving, knowledge-sharing, innovation as everyone’s business, and making the transition to new ways of working.
Calling all instigators!
We have pulled together practical insights from this legacy in our ebook, Calling All Instigators! Why not sign up here for a copy.
And contact us to see how we can help you in making your journey to new ways of working that are fit for the digitally-connected 21st century workplace.